Just as the sun started setting over the Pismo Beach pier, eight lifeguards splashed into the water carrying white rescue surfboards and paddled furiously out to a figure bobbing in the distant waves. A crowd of onlookers watched anxiously from the shore.
The lifeguards weren't responding to an emergency, however — they were competing in the Central Coast Lifeguard Championship.
The Pismo Beach Lifeguard Association hosted the event this week on a stretch of beach just south of the pier, reviving a competition that was once a fixture at the beach, Pismo Beach lifeguard Logan Hunter said Tuesday.
“We used to do it with all of the lifeguards from all the beaches around here, from Oceano up to Cayucos,” Hunter said.
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Pismo Beach lifeguard supervisor Rick Howard said he first became involved in the competition in 1989 and helped organize it until it was last held in 2002. The championship was scheduled to take place in Avila Beach in 2003, but a fatal shark attack at the beach on the same day of the competition put an end to that year's championship. Afterwards, the groups "never had the right people or time" to hold the event again, Howard said.
The competition returned this year largely because of Howard's impending retirement in December.
"We reflected back on the competition, and there were just so many good memories of it that we decided to bring it back," he said. "I've missed that camaraderie of it, and now maybe our current lifeguards can organize it."
This week’s championship brought together lifeguards from across San Luis Obispo County beaches — with only Cayucos unrepresented — in an effort to showcase their talents, Hunter said.
“Everyone seemed to be having a good time,” Hunter said Tuesday of the first night of competition.
Nearly 40 lifeguards participated in the competition’s individual events on Monday, he said — a 1,000-yard ocean paddle, a 1.5-mile beach run, a 1,000-yard ocean swim and an “ironguard” (250-yard swim, 500-yard paddle and a half-mile run).
Kyle Sweasey of Morro Bay, Michael Cueto of Oceano and Tyler Andree of Avila Beach took home the top men’s awards, and Julia Donath of Oceano, Shanna Angelus of Pismo Beach and Suz Forzetting of Avila Beach won the top women’s awards.
On Tuesday evening, the teams faced off in relays starting with the 400-yard ocean paddle event.
As the first round of lifeguards paddled out to the buoy bobbing in the waves, the crowd of lifeguards waiting their turn cheered, shouted and jumped up and down in encouragement for teammates and competitors alike.
As the last competitor ran back up to shore, white rescue surfboard in hand, the group of lifeguards congratulated her with pats on the back and shouts of encouragement, before the entire group trekked back to the nearby lifeguard tower to prepare for the next event, a 250-yard ocean swim relay.
At the end of the night, the Oceano lifeguard team took home the top prize, followed by the teams from Pismo Beach, Morro Bay and Avila Beach.